Brian Wilson doesn’t speak much in the traditional sense, but he doesn’t have to.
When you’re able to begin a concert with one of the most recognizable songs ever, you’re talking about someone special, someone who can be a little wobbly physically and vocally, yet still help produce an immensely enjoyable evening of musical nostalgia.
The architect of some of pop music’s greatest songs isn’t anyone’s idea of an engaging performer. At Wednesday’s concert at a blistering Chastain Amphitheater, Wilson hitched up his jeans, slid behind a keyboard and said, simply, “Hello, Atlanta. Thank you for coming.”
And then he and his impeccable nine-piece band launched into “California Girls.”
For the next two-and-a-half hours (including a 20-minute intermission during which Wilson sat alone in a folding chair slightly offstage), the iconic musician barreled through a musical vault rivaled only by a handful of peers.
“Do You Wanna Dance,” “Catch a Wave,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “In My Room” – all were delivered without much introductory fanfare, but sounded tremendous.
Wilson’s band, led by angelic-voiced guitarist Jeff Foskett and keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, clearly handle the heavy lifting on stage, from the trademark Beach Boys harmonies to the songs’ multi-layered instrumentation that would seem impossible to duplicate live.
Wilson mostly sat behind his keyboard, playing it more frequently when Foskett handled lead vocals on a song (his “Don’t Worry Baby” was stunning), and relied on a TelePrompTer for lyrical guidance.
But while Wilson’s voice has lost some zip – and at 69, it’s understandable – he always seemed musically present, sometimes even lost in those honeyed melodies he crafted decades ago.
Hearing gems such as “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” (theme song to the dearly departed “Men of a Certain Age”) and “Don’t Worry Baby” reminded that while so many Beach Boys songs sound like frothy beach-bum ditties, they’re really philosophical musings couched in sunshine.
The gorgeous complexity of Wilson’s creations was most evident on “God Only Knows,” which he introduced as “The song that’s the best I ever wrote.” For that matter, one of the best that anyone has ever written. And on Wednesday, a glorious foundation of French horn and sleigh bells anchored a note-perfect rendition of the sweeping ballad.
Wilson’s most recent project, his re-imagining of the songs of Gershwin, also received the live treatment, as the band harmonized through “Rhapsody in Blue” and a haunting version of “Summertime.”
Wilson tends to sing in a staccato style these days, but his clipped delivery didn’t dent the inherent prettiness of “Sloop John B” or the heavenly “Heroes and Villains.” It was a marvel to hear the band’s layered harmonies ping-pong around the stage.
Of course, any show with Beach Boys songs is bound to inspire dancing, and since Chastain wasn’t quite half full, it meant more room for the physically inclined to twirl to “Good Vibrations” and participate in lighthearted singaglongs.
So no, Wilson might not be a vital presence on stage, but as long as he has his music, everything will be all right.
For a recent interview with Wilson, go to: http://www.accessatlanta.com/AccessAtlanta-sharing_/brian-wilson-talks-new-1064935.html
The Beach Boys (sans Wilson) perform at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Sept. 9. (http://www.cobbenergycentre.com/shared/event_detail.aspx?EventID=3747860&WebLink=48B.13B2CA98)
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